A Lesson in Humility with UnCruise Adventures Yoga Teacher Jo Zukovich

A Lesson in Humility with UnCruise Adventures Yoga Teacher Jo Zukovich
by Melissa Hagedorn

When I connect with yoga teacher Jo Zukovich on the phone, I quickly realize that I am in for a treat.  Though I am supposed to be focusing on learning more about Jo and her teaching methods, her humility guides her to share about her incredible teachers, including B.K.S. Iyengar.

IMG_0461Can you tell us about the beginning of your yoga practice and how you found your way to teaching yoga?
I sought out yoga in 1979 after a life of dance and ballet practice had led to shin splints.  I kept hearing great things about a local teacher, Mary Dunn.  Mary taught Iyengar yoga which is no surprise as her mother, Mary Palmer, was instrumental in bringing Mr. Iyengar to the United States for his first teaching tour in 1973.  Not unlike others, when I attended my first class, I realized how good the practice felt and started to attend classes with Mary as much as I could.  After a few years of dedicated study with Mary, I became an assistant at the yoga studio.  In 1984, I had the opportunity to study with Iyengar himself when he visited San Diego and it was the best class that I had ever taken.   Within the next year, Mary departed for New York City to start the Iyengar Association and I stepped into the role of teacher.  Because of my passion for the practice and sharing it with others, I opened several yoga studios, one by one, and started training yoga teachers in 1990.  It was not in the 200-hour format that is commonplace today but rather in a mentorship style.

IMG_0409Did you travel to India to study with Iyengar and if so, what was that experience like?  
In 1988, I traveled to India to study with Iyengar and completed the pilgrimage three more times in the 1990’s as well as studying with him when he traveled to the US.    Studying with Iyengar was different every time.  We would have class time with Iyengar in the mornings and practice time in the afternoon.  Iyengar would do his own personal practice alongside the students in the afternoons.  It was one of the most valuable learning opportunities for me with my practice.  Though Iyengar’s presence was notable during class time, it was subtle during practice time.  In fact, you might not even notice him.  While students were huffing and puffing their way through their practice, Iyengar moved silently with grace from one pose to the next without strain.  His practice was a moving meditation and it was a beautiful thing to watch.  Occasionally, he would come and adjust a student during the practice time.

I knew, and could feel that others knew too, that we were in the presence of somebody who knew what they were doing and what they were about.  Yes, there was a physical aspect to the yoga practice but ultimately, the practice was a tool to help you evolve as a human being.

Practicing with Iyengar lasted well beyond the time spent in India.  Once I returned home from India and started to apply all that I had learned, I had the realization that yoga was not only about the physical postures.  My understanding of the practice started to deepen, leading to new insights that were ultimately connected to this great yoga lineage.

You studied with Iyengar several times in the US.  Was that experience different than studying with him in India?
I remember attending a San Diego yoga conference in 1990 where Iyengar was present.  He wasn’t really teaching any workshops.  He was engaging and speaking with yogis and helping out.  On the last day of the conference, I was told there was going to be an impromptu yoga class.  My husband and I showed up and discovered that Iyengar was teaching the class.  It was the first class I had seen Iyengar teach where there were hundreds of yogis.  In India, there were typically about 50 yogis in class.  What I remember the most about this class with Iyengar in San Diego was his keen sense of awareness and ability to provide a verbal cue to one specific individual in a room of hundreds.

file (2)How did Iyengar come up with yoga props?
In 1937, Krishnamacharya sent Iyengar to Pune at the age of eighteen to spread the teaching of yoga.  Iyengar started by teaching strong and capable military soldiers but it wasn’t long before he was teaching people that had a wide-range of health conditions.  Iyengar felt that students needed to stay in poses for a certain duration of time to reap the benefits yet often times a student would be dealing with a health issue that would limit the students ability to do so.  It was during these early years that Iyengar first started to develop props to use during the yoga practice to extend the time a post could be held.  In class, he would provide the student with a piece of furniture or a rack to use as an aid.  Then Iyengar started experimenting at home and eventually came up with the block.  It was a statue that inspired him to create the yoga strap.  Iyengar saw a statue of someone sitting in Siddhasana with a belt around their knees and back and realized that a strap would help students stay in the poses longer.

What about the yoga practice has led to your life long dedication to the practice?
The first difference I noticed in my life from the yoga practice was in how I walked but it didn’t take long for me to discover that the changes would extend far beyond the physical.  The practice changes you physically and emotionally.  I feel strongly that each yogi should have their own personal practice.  I know that many people are intimidated by the idea of creating their own practice but it really can be something as simple as 10 minutes of practice.  A personal practice allows you to take what you learned in class and apply it to your life.  This is where transformation can happen.

I love teaching yoga and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  My favorite piece of advice is to go slowly on the path.

IMG_0480You have been practicing for a while.  Have you had to deal with injuries?
About 8 years ago, I had physical setback with my yoga practice.  All of a sudden, much of the physical asana was no longer available to me.  Honestly, I was initially devastated but I kept practicing and slowly I regained many of the postures that had been lost to me.  Now, when I reflect back on the experience, I feel blessed because I learned much about myself during that challenging time.

Speaking of physical setbacks, you have been acknowledged by paraplegic Matthew Sanford as his first teacher and helping him to cultivate a presence within his body through awareness, breath and attention.  What was it like working with Matthew and do you have any advice for yoga teachers in working with disabilities?
Matthew had been going to school in Santa Barbara, where I used to teach once a month, and someone referred him to me.  I would give him a few poses to try and he would practice them throughout the month and we would reconnect the next time I was in Santa Barbara.  He was an exceptional student and applied himself to the practice.  It didn’t take long for Matthew to feel inner body changes from the practice and soon we started to practice together intensively for many hours at a time.   I learned a lot from working with Matthew.  He has now gone on to found Mind Body Solutions and offers training on working with people with disabilities.  If you are interested in working with disabilities, I highly recommend seeking specialized training with someone like Matthew.  Beyond that, I would also acknowledge that each injury is different and the teacher must go slowly and have an ongoing conversation with the student to ensure the practice is helping them.

You and I connected because of our mutual association with UnCruise.  Have you ever UnCruise’d before?
Yes, twice.  About a year ago, my daughter took me on an UnCruise to the Sea of Cortez. I was impressed with how well planned and thought out the experience is with UnCruise.  There are endless options for activities from hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and more.  The food was amazing, the employees were kind and knowledgeable.  The dozens of fellow cruisers are like-minded and it is easy to make new friends.  I loved the experience so much in fact that before I even got off the boat in the Sea of Cortez, I booked another UnCruise for my husband and I to the San Juan Islands and Olympic Peninsula.

uncruiseyogaYou are leading a “Rivers of Wellness” cruise with UnCruise in October 2017 along the Columbia and Snake Rivers.  What can guests expect on this cruise and from your yoga classes?
The “Rivers of Wellness” UnCruise will offer daily yoga classes, nutrition workshops and sound healing as well as the typical excursions and adventures UnCruise is known for.  Yoga will be offered both on the boat and along the river.  In my yoga classes, I teach a mindful approach to the poses and I keep my eye on students to ensure that they are provided with modifications that best serve them.  One thing I am looking forward to in this immersive environment is the opportunity to be available for yogis to provide guidance and help answer questions about their practice.

This is the perfect opportunity to set aside the daily stresses of deciding what you are going to eat, tidying the house or running errands and shift your focus towards going inward.

In addition to daily yoga classes, the “Rivers of Wellness” UnCruise will offer a winery and vineyard tour and tasting, a jet boat ride into Hells Canyon, a tour of the Bonneville Dam, guided hikes and much more.  To learn more about the upcoming cruise, please visit:  https://www.uncruise.com/destinations/columbia-river-cruises/rivers-of-wellness

 

 

 

 

NW Yoga Conference – A great opportunity to discover the benefits of yoga!

 

Yoga does not just change the way we see things,
it transforms the person who sees it. –
B.K.S Iyengar

The above quote aptly summarizes the positive impact yoga has on transforming our day to day life. Yoga was first mentioned in the first Vedic literature. The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ which means to unite and the fundamental idea is that the practice of yoga unites our body, mind and soul.

I was first introduced to yoga when as a young professional I was looking for relief from the physical and mental stress that comes with working in a demanding technology industry. I have been practicing yoga ever since then for over a decade now. Though I started practicing yoga for stress relief, I have discovered so many other benefits over the years and continue to discover more with time.

Following are some of the top benefits that I have discovered practicing yoga.

  1. Yoga is a way of life and encourages you to make healthy choices, become self-aware, increases self-esteem and confidence which helps you make better connections and see yourself in a positive light.
  2. Yoga improves balance and flexibility, builds strength, endurance and general fitness in the most natural way. It is always with you as all you need is a mat which you can spread anywhere and practice yoga. You can practice it at the pace that’s most suitable to your unique physic.
  3. Yoga provides stress relief. As the world becomes increasingly “connected” it is becoming increasingly vital to find time to stay in the moment, meditate and clam the mind. Yoga provides a way to connect with your Self.

The above reasons are just tip of the iceberg. As you continue your practice, you will discover many more over time. In addition, yoga opens the doors to new and exciting experiences and learnings that ultimately will help you be a stronger, calmer and grounded person.

NW Yoga conference is an awesome opportunity to discover the benefits of yoga. The conference brings yogis together with diverse mind sets and thus is a perfect chance to learn from experienced yoga teachers. So if you are new to yoga or an experienced practitioner, you can get introduced to yoga or enhance your practice and start discovering the benefits of yoga. So do not miss this opportunity to learn yoga and connect with the community right here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest!

~ article written and contributed by Geeta

The Best of Both Worlds: Interview with Tiffany Cruikshank
by Jill Rivera Greene

Tiffany Fluid FrameTiffany Cruikshank has dedicated 20+ years to crafting her unique method of teaching yoga. She draws on a vast range of experience, including her work as a holistic medicine practitioner, acupuncturist, and sports medicine expert, as well as private sessions with thousands of patients, students and athletes, including Seattle’s own Russell Wilson.

These experiences laid the foundation for her Yoga Medicine trainings, which draw on both Eastern and Western notions of medicine to address each patient/student’s unique needs. These days, Tiffany spends the majority of her time sharing these teachings in conferences, trainings and articles internationally. She was generous enough to share a few juicy tidbits in a recent phone conversation with NWYC.

Where did the inspiration for Yoga Medicine come from?
When I started seeing patients about 15 years ago, I noticed that my patients who practiced yoga got better a lot quicker. That prompted me to think about how I could better help my patients who don’t practice yoga, by giving them postures and other things they could do on their own to be more proactive in their health care.

Yoga Medicine was meant to bridge the gap between the yoga world and the medical world, so yoga could be an adjunct to people’s medical care. Yoga teachers aren’t meant to replace medical providers. Our mission is to train teachers to blend Eastern and Western modalities, so they can work effectively with medical providers and help people with injuries or illnesses, or improve general wellness.

Do a lot of health care providers come to your trainings?
All of our trainings are for people who want to teach yoga in some capacity, but maybe a quarter of participants are also health care providers, from mental health counselors, doctors, surgeons, physical therapists, acupuncturists, and more. The common denominator is people who are interested in both the East and West—the Western understanding of anatomy/physiology in addition to the Eastern practice of yoga.

Tiffany-Cruikshank-Mind-Makeover-e1487196234285Has Yoga Medicine changed the way that you personally approach yoga?
I have never seen [yoga and Yoga Medicine] as separate. That said, I definitely started out with a more physically based practice. I did a lot of Ashtanga when I was younger, and I was intrigued with inversions and arm balances. Then I had a bad injury, and that’s what forced me to start incorporating more of what I did with my patients into my own practice and teaching. This eventually evolved into Yoga Medicine.

I think we all evolve over the decades of our lives. If we practice yoga long enough, the practice changes to suit our needs. Yoga Medicine has definitely changed how I approach my practice; I now approach it more through a therapeutic lens than an exercise or gymnastic lens, though movement is also therapeutic of course.

Do you have specific suggestions for people of a certain age (ahem), as our practice evolves?
I think it’s important to acknowledge that the practice isn’t meant to be one practice for everybody. The beautiful thing about yoga is that there are so many different approaches. As we go through our life cycles, hopefully we are able to find a practice that suits us. And if you practice yoga long enough, that will change many times. What exactly that looks like is going to be different for each person.

The hard part is just staying open to that. We can get kind of rigid about what we think we need. We only have so much time, and we often feel like we have to get a physical practice in, to move because we sit all day. The yoga principles and practices are based on a framework of not just physical flexibility, but mental flexibility as well. It’s really important to our health and vitality to allow ourselves to pay attention to what our bodies need through different weeks, years, and decades of our lives.  After practicing for almost 25 years now and spanning several decades of my life, my own personal practice has changed immensely over the years and only when I was able to be adapt to that was I able to tap into the therapeutic potential of my practice.

JasperPhoto_Tiffany_9895_lowrezCan you talk a little about the process you go through in developing a Yoga Medicine module?
The modules that I develop are all on topics that are personally meaningful to me. They are things I have experienced in my own practice, with students and patients. So I start by choosing subjects that are important not only from my lens but also for the people I work with.

I like to stick to what I’m good at and what I know. A lot of the course content comes from my own education, my 10+ years of training in holistic medicine, yoga, acupuncture, sports medicine, and orthopedics, as well as 15 years of seeing Chinese medicine/acupuncture patients with a specialty in sports medicine & orthopedics together with my experience of teaching yoga for the last 20 + years and running yoga teacher trainings for over 15 years.  And then I dig through my books, and consult with other teachers, doctors and health care providers who might be helpful. When we do modules that aren’t in my specialty or comfort zone, I bring in other people who are specialists in that area. We have a lot of doctors & experienced teachers who contribute to our curriculum.

One of the things that we do well in Yoga Medicine is keeping an open mind. We train our teachers to think for themselves, so that they can understand the lens of the human body and apply that to the yoga practice. Yoga Medicine is not a specific style or way of working with students. We always recommend that our teachers continue to study many different styles of yoga. We are helping our teachers to understand the body from an Eastern and Western perspective, so that they can decipher for themselves what might be helpful for their students.

One of the workshops that you’re offering at the NW Yoga Conference is on the SI joint. Can you talk about why you chose this topic, and share one or two key things that students in the workshop will learn?
The SI joint is becoming a popular topic right now, and rightfully so. In the medical world and in my training, almost 20 years ago, there was hardly any talk about it. Now it’s starting to get a more recognition, in the medical world, in yoga, and in the general population.

The SI is a really important joint, because it’s weight-bearing and a transition point between the upper and lower body. It doesn’t get a lot of movement; in fact, it barely moves at all. Most of the time it gets 2 to 4 degrees of movement. But there is a fine balance between not moving enough and moving too much that, in my experience, is critical to the health of this joint.

One of the easiest take-aways is the importance of having a balance of strength and flexibility. As a yoga practitioner you can do that in a general sense, by noticing areas that are tight or weak, and working on those areas.

For yoga students who are more flexible, it’s important to look at areas that they can strengthen around the hip, lower back, and core. You can’t really go wrong there. Any time there are recurrent SI joint issues, there is some layer of hypermobility. So in general, it’s looking at how to build symmetrical stability around this joint to help it function optimally within this fine range of motion.

I have found some specific techniques that are helpful in this area. In the workshop, we will look at some of the common tendencies and simple ways to work with them.

You’re offering another workshop, on myofascial release. Who do you find benefits most from this technique?
The thing I love most about myofascial release is that pretty much everyone can benefit from it. You can modify it to the individual pretty easily. Nothing is going to replace a great body worker or your medical provider, but it can be a great way to continue your care on your own.

Usually people feel results pretty much immediately, so that gives people encouragement to continue using it. Eventually, over time, they can reshape and shift the fascia and the connective tissue. We’re now starting to recognize, through research, that this is an important part of our physical health—not only our muscles, but our structural supportive system and how it’s all integrated together.

When people use myofascial release, they get to feel how one part of the body affects another. This is one of the reasons that I love teaching these workshops. A lot of times when we do myofascial release on our own, we just work on one specific area. But when you go through the body in a workshop, you may notice that there were completely separate areas that were even more helpful to the area where you have pain or limited range of motion. So it helps you uncover what I call “mystery areas.”

You have worked with a lot of athletes throughout your career. What do yoga teachers need to know about working with high-performance athletes?
We have a whole module on this in Yoga Medicine! I’ve worked with a lot of different kinds of athletes—from pro athletes to weekend warriors, in many different sports. Yoga is becoming a more and more prevalent resource for athletes, and there is a lot that yoga teachers can do with and for athletes.

One thing that’s really important to understand is that, in most athletics, there are very different stages of training. My goal as a yoga teacher is to meet athletes where they are, and to use the different tools and modalities of yoga to assist them through the different training & recovery stages, including joint stability & strength building, mobility, active recovery, passive recovery and the often over looked nervous system reset.

The great thing about working with athletes is that they are usually very much in tune with their bodies and changes in their performance, so that gives us good, quick feedback. However, depending on the athlete, there can also be a lot of parts that are very disconnected. I enjoy working with athletes because they generally respond really well to yoga and are usually surprised by all the things it affects not only in their performance but also their mental game and how they feel in general. They can really feel the differences yoga is making. Even simple additions can be very effective in an athlete’s routine.

What are some of the benefits, for yoga teachers and students alike, of attending an event like the Northwest Yoga Conference?
The great thing about coming to a conference like this is getting a sampling of a lot of different things. I enjoy being a participant as well as a teacher, and hearing the different viewpoints.

As a teacher, you not only get to take away new information from the classes, but it also sparks you to think in new ways. It fires parts of my brain that maybe haven’t been used recently. A conference is a great way to spark an interest to dig deeper and perhaps continue on to study more deeply with a teacher.

One of the things that I feel strongly about in Yoga Medicine is that often there isn’t a “right” or a “wrong” way. All of these teachings have some uses, otherwise they wouldn’t be around. They’ve worked for someone. So if I can go and see all of these different ways of working with the body, it helps me create more tools and resources to have at my fingertips when working with my students.

That’s the whole premise of our trainings: Being able to individualize the process, so that teachers can work in medical settings, or home settings, or wherever they are needed.

Back to Basics: Interview with Yoga Legend Maty Ezraty

Back to Basics: Interview with Maty Ezraty
by Jill Greene

I was moving too quickly the day I had originally scheduled this interview with senior teacher Maty Ezraty, who founded and directed the YogaWorks studio and Teacher Training program for more than 16 years. Caught up in activity, I forgot to double-check the time difference between Seattle and Hawaii, where Maty now lives—and I missed our appointment entirely!

When we did finally connect, Maty was gracious about my mistake and full of wisdom. Perhaps not coincidentally, our conversation included several reminders of how important it is not to lose sight of the fundamentals, in a modern world that’s moving at the speed of light.

Maty EaratyYou’re offering an all-day intensive this year on “Making Your Practice Whole.” What does it mean to make your practice whole?
In today’s world, yoga is practiced a little bit more for physical reasons. Making your practice whole is about exploring the bigger picture: your attitudes, the way the mind works, what your intentions are. It means looking at yoga from a holistic perspective, less from a strictly physical point of view.

For a number of years, you have been practicing vipassana meditation in addition to yoga. Is that compatible with this idea of making your practice whole?
Yes. I think meditation is mandatory, if you are a serious seeker of spirituality. Asana will only take you so far. It’s so important to study your mind in other venues. Meditation is as good as it gets.

You have been teaching yoga for 25 years. How have you seen the teaching of yoga evolve in America over that time?
Yoga today is a little mixed up with fitness. Not that there’s anything wrong with fitness, but it doesn’t allow you to go deeper in understanding your inner dynamics, your self, your mind-space. If you have the music on, and everything’s about feeling good, looking good … it’s artificial.

Unfortunately, in the last decade, we’ve seen business people take over yoga schools. And they really don’t understand yoga—half of them don’t even practice it. We have so many teacher trainings taught by people who haven’t been doing yoga long enough. So we’re creating a new generation that’s doing yoga poses, but in a fitness manner. It’s diluting yoga. It’s a lot easier to sell, because when you’re required to observe your mind and look at your stuff, it’s harder!

I think a lot of people are being promised that they can become yoga teachers, but it’s really difficult to make a living teaching yoga today. Of course it depends on the individual and what they know … but it should definitely not be something that you do lightly. I would never advise someone to give up a career to teach yoga, because most teachers today are struggling. Sometimes what you love to do is not necessarily what you should do for a living.

Maty Ezraty AsanaIf you could give one piece of advice to a new teacher today, what would it be?
Stick to why you decided to do yoga in the first place, and teach from there. I did not seek yoga for a profession, when I started studying. I came for a deeper, soul searching. That’s the place to teach yoga from.

When you’re a new teacher, you’re told you need a 200-hour certificate to teach anywhere. What does that have to do with anything? You can do 200 hours of good training or 200 hours of no training. Some people can retain an enormous amount in 200 hours, and other people can’t. So we have this arbitrary number of hours. We’ve got a problem.

In the old days, you had to get permission to take the Yoga Works teacher training. Somebody watched you practice. The first day of teacher training, I could teach shoulder stand. Everybody knew the fundamentals. They knew that in trikonasana the leg turns out, and the knee faces the second toe. I have students now who have never heard that before.

But it’s not the students’ fault! I don’t even think it’s the teacher’s fault. It’s the owners and the companies that are pushing numbers, pushing fitness, pushing Twitter, pushing websites … and they’re overlooking good teachers.

It’s also the consumer. It’s really a society problem, and it’s going to take courageous people to do things in a different way.

What can we do to change things?
Practitioners need to be educated and to buy the right workshops, put their money in classes and in trainings that offer something else. Request them: “I want classes with less music, I want more restorative yoga, I want more pranayama.”

And as an owner, you really have to walk that line in a smart way. Because you have to bring people along. It takes experience. It’s totally doable, but everyone’s just going too fast.

This practice takes time. You need at least 7 years before you’re pretty good. You should have at least 10-15 years under your belt before you teach and train people. You’ve got to be really strong in your own understanding. Otherwise you just give in to the students, because it’s too hard.

My best students and my best teachers assisted me for years. And came to class, over and over again, for years. There’s nothing wrong with a 200-hour training, if you then have somewhere to go and apprentice, under someone who’s really got it. That’ll work.

Do you see any glimmers of hope?
The last time I taught at a yoga festival, I had a teachers’ class. It was a really large class, 120 students, and I did basics. I walked out of that class high as a kite. These teachers wanted to learn, they were hungry, and they were getting it. It was exciting. There was no music, and their eyes were wide open and they wanted the information.

So yes, I have hope. But it’s going to take a community effort.

Maty Ezraty YogaAnd our own self study – is that a part of this?
Absolutely. That’s why I said that meditation is really critical. Because at some point, the asana is just not going to take you that far in. It can’t—it was never meant to. It’s only a pillar, a limb, a part of the process. It’s really just making you healthier so that you can do the deeper work.

I think many of us aspire to have an individual practice as long and fruitful as yours. What advice do you have for us as we look to the future?
What you do in your 20s, you’re not going to be able to do in your 50s. The more you understand that from the beginning, and the more you develop a really caring practice, the more you will appreciate the basics. So when those more fancy poses go away, you’ll have less suffering. You will see the benefits of the simplicity of it all.

The way that our lives are structured today, we put our old people in homes and we may not live next to our families, so we grow up without seeing that aging process up close. It’s not so real for us. We think that we’re always going to be like we are today, but things change. So it’s about the simple things: just lying down on the ground, feeling the earth and realizing how precious that is. How many people in the world never walk barefoot, never lie down on a flat floor and just close their eyes and breathe?

It’s going to come to that for each and every one of us, at some point. Standing on your head? Intense arm balances? Eventually it just doesn’t work anymore. But if those expectations are not there, and the simplicity is applied, and savored, then it’s a wonderful thing.

At the end of the day, you have to know this practice, personally, for yourself, without the teacher. It’s got to get to that.

Spend the day with Maty Ezraty during her Make Your Practice Whole yoga immersion at the Northwest Yoga Conference. You can find all the details here.

The Courage to Live From Your Heart-Center: Guest Post by Terilyn Wyre

This year, we are asking conference presenters to share with us what the conference theme, “The Courage to Live From Your Heart-Center” means to them.  First up, the incredible, loving and inspiring Seattle based yogi, Terilyn Wyre!  Be careful, you might want a box of tissues neaby –  the beauty of this writing brought us to tears.

We can fall in love in an instant; utterly, completely, unequivocally in love. It takes but a moment for our hearts to open like a flower yearning for the kiss of sunlight and morning dew. We fall in love with our partner, our children, our friends, our pets, the sight of the sun setting over the water, the forest, the mountains, a piece of art, our favorite song. Falling in love is easy, natural, effortless even. It seems like the very thing we were born to do. Often we remember these moments as rare, monumental and fleeting. What we are witnessing in these magical moments is a reflection of the Beloved who resides within us. In essence, our outer environment is mirroring back to us our huge capacity to love and be loved. As tempting as it is to think we are falling in love with someone because they are so fabulous (which they very well may be) a deeper truth might be that our love interest is willing to hold space for us to dive into the unending well of love within our own heart.

So you might be thinking “well sure I’ve felt moments of deep love but it not a feeling that lasts, it shifts and changes and sometimes ends. How do I cultivate a feeling of open heartedness that guides my choices, my path, my life, when the risk of heartbreak seems inevitable? Won’t that hurt, a lot?” I’ve asked myself this question many times, especially when I see cruelty and tragedy in the world. Yes, you will experience pain, loss, heartbreak and unimaginable grief.

This is where courage comes in: to love without story, conditions or expectations; to love simply because it makes you come alive to do so; to love even in the face of disrespect, disregard and dismissal. This is the true work of a heart centered warrior. I’m not suggesting it’s the easy path, but rather one of integrity, authenticity and vulnerability.

I have found these three things are essential in living from the heart: forgiveness,  self-compassion and self-love. The courage comes in our willingness to look at our shadow self and all our wounds and old stories. When we are brave enough to bring the light of awareness to all the parts of ourselves that need healing we can begin the process of true forgiveness of ourselves and others which in time becomes the balm for our aching hearts. Forgiveness allows us to have compassion for our perceived failures and mistakes and love ourselves for all of who we are, the shiny side as well as the side we’d rather not look at or expose to another. When we experience this for ourselves first we can see our divine innocence and then eventually the divine innocence in others who deserve that same love, compassion, and forgiveness.

In every religion or mysticism there seems to be a yearning for God; the Divine, Beloved. We are yearning for the One who has never left us. When we recognize as truth that love is ours and the Beloved is within us, we lose some of our fears as we can never truly lose love or be abandoned.

physical-heart-opening

In every moment we have an opportunity to contract in fear or expand in love, the choice is ours. It takes practice to trust the expansion of our hearts. Your very first down dog may have felt awkward or difficult but in time felt ease-full and familiar, so too is true of learning to live from your heart. The more we yoke ourselves back to love again and again, the less we shut down emotionally. We learn to navigate this world with grace and sovereignty and a steadfast willingness to open our hearts to each other and every moment of this wild life.

For me, the choice is clear: With my yoga practice as my medicine/ my elixir for the strength and courage it takes to live from my heart, I will continue to walk this path as a warrior of love and welcome home all the wounded parts of myself with a renewed sense of belonging. My prayer for you is to do the same.

Earthing – What It Means to Touch Mother Earth

Earthing – What It Means to Touch Mother Earth
By Nicole Dawn Armstrong, Guest Blogger

Jungle MudbathWhen was the last time you sat on our Earth and touched her with your bare hands? I’m not referring to simply leaning on the ground, perhaps while watching a baseball game, or enjoying a picnic on a blanket with friends. I am referring to touching our Earth, recognizing her as a living, breathing being, and connecting with her through your bare hands or feet in an awake, aware moment. Reconnecting with the Earth through direct touch is called Earthing. It’s a timeless practice of living in contact with the Earth’s natural electrical surface charge – being grounded – and it’s powerful. Being grounded allows the body to naturally discharge and prevent build-up of chronic inflammation. In this way, Earthing addresses the most pressing health concern to date in the modern world.

Sure, it sounds simple. But when you make the distinction as to whether a touch given to Mother Earth was mindful and direct – or not, you realize whether an energy exchange took place in that moment. In fact, throughout most of human history, we were connected to Mother Earth. We slept and walked barefoot on the ground. We gathered roots, berries, and plants outdoors with our bare hands and scooped up water directly from streams and lakes.

However, enter modern times. We now wear nonconductive shoes with synthetic soles, walk over carpeted floors, work in high rise towers and buildings, drive around in cars with nonconductive rubber tires, and sleep in elevated beds. We rarely go outside barefoot anymore. We rarely touch rain from the sky, feel natural water on our feet or sand between our toes. In fact, outside of taking vacation once or twice a year, we rarely reconnect. We’ve become disconnected from our Earth and the charge building within our body continues to increase right alongside the mainstream proliferation of chronic inflammatory diseases new to the modern world.

Perhaps as we’ve become disconnected from the Earth, we’ve also become disconnected from our own bodies. The sense of disconnection can result in a loss of compassion – not only for the Earth but also for ourselves. As Jack Kornfield, renowned mindfulness and vipassana teacher wrote, “From the perspective of Buddhist psychology, compassion is natural. It derives from our interconnection, which Buddhism calls “interdependence.” This can be readily seen in the physical world. In the womb, every child is interdependent with its mother’s body. If either of them is sick, the other is affected. In the same way we are interdependent with the body of the earth. The minerals of the soil make up our wheat and bones, the storm clouds become our drinks and our blood, the oxygen from the trees and forests breathe with us, interdependent with our own life. The more consciously we realize this shared destiny, the more compassion arises for the earth itself.”

For something that sounds so simple and dismissive as leaning down to touch the Earth, it may actually be one of our most powerful gestures as it grounds and discharges our body and opens up our being compassionately not only to the Earth, but to ourselves.

Machu PicchuRecall moments when you’ve felt powerfully connected to Mother Earth. Some Earthing moments that resonate most memorably with me are the sights, sounds, and aromas of the Earth during my childhood in rural Montana. I recall the scent of sagebrush on the open prairie, pine mountain forests, and steaming sulfur from the geothermal waters near Yellowstone. I recall the feeling of gushy mud between my toes and joy as I ran barefoot through the pigpens and all around the farm. I can still smell the musty scents of old saddle leather and hot animal sweat from horseback riding across long open fields. These memories of being outdoors and connected with Mother Earth are vivid and everlasting as moments when I felt gentle, alive, calm, secure and grounded.

Most recently, I recall the connected time I spent Earthing in the Amazon jungle. During this journey, I walked barefoot along the shores of the great river, practiced yoga in the sun while soaking in mud, and absorbed moments of meditation among the symphony of sounds resonating throughout the rainforest. Connected, exhilarated, gentle, alive, calm, and yes – grounded. Earthing, it’s a powerful energetic shift we all need.

Washington Lake ShoreFacing forward, I practice earthing daily here at home in Seattle. Some days my daily reconnection with Mother Earth takes place on a sandy beach, after a hike in a local park, or with yoga along a lakeshore. However, most days it’s simply taking work breaks throughout the day to step outside, soak in the springtime sun, and press my press my bare feet onto the soil. If I pay close enough attention, I can feel the energetic tingle of Mother Earth helping me rebalance my energy.

What does your daily practice of reconnecting to Mother Earth look like?

How does it make you feel?

Can you recall a moment when you were so powerfully connected to the Earth that the smallest details of that moment will always remain fresh in your mind?

These feelings of calm groundedness, awake, aware security and immense peacefulness are our birthright as living beings on this Earth. I encourage you to be mindful and curious about how your connection – or lack thereof – with Mother Earth affects you. If you’ve been inflamed, scattered, or constantly craving a sense of grounding, perhaps this is your wake up call to connect back to your Earth Mother.

You are worth feeling connected, alive, and securely grounded here in your divine purpose on this planet. Mother Earth is always present and available for you, at every moment of the day, whenever you need to renew that sense of connectedness. It involves simply removing your shoes, opening your hands, and touching her mindfully with a welcoming present heart.

Earthing – it’s time to reconnect and reawaken. You’re always here, right at home.

Ready to experience powerful Earthing? Join me May 18-22nd for five powerful days to experiencing earthing in Utah next month.  I have partnered with Yoga In The Wild for a Yoga and Canyoneering Retreat in breathtaking outdoor vistas. This retreat was recently named by Yoga Journal magazine as one of the Most Affordable Yoga Retreats in 2016! You will experience a grounding and rejuvenating immersion in one of our nation’s most sacred landscapes including daily outdoor yoga and meditation practices, as well as canyoneering adventures and nighttime campfires under the stars. Side effects may include grounding, peacefulness, and connected memories to last a lifetime. I hope you’ll join me!

For more information, check out: http://www.getinthewild.com/guided-trips/yoga-in-the-wild/ Early bird rates of $995 are good until April 30th.

For more information about the researched health benefits of Earthing, check out book: Ober, Clinton, and Sinatra, MD, Stephen T., and Zucker, Martin. Earthing, The most important health discovery ever!. Basic Health Publications, Inc. 2014.

7 Ways to Feed Your Chakras through Food

7 Ways to Feed Your Chakras through Food
If we always do what we’ve always done–we’ll always get what we’ve always gotten.” -Anonymous

Have you ever gone on a diet, only to find yourself back in your old eating habits a short time later? The issue might lie in how you approach not only the diet, but the concept of food in general.

“Going on a diet” implies a temporary regimen that we’ll eventually stop. If we continue to see food as a static diet, and not in the broader sense of being a dynamic tool for personal growth, chances are we won’t be led to our inner potential through eating.

Therefore, I am going to challenge you to open your vision of “food” to a larger concept of “nourishment of the whole self,” which I believe will give you more sustainable changes and a renewed, fresh relationship with something as common as eating.

Our relationship with food can be broken down into seven chakras. Discover which areas of nourishment may be particularly relevant to you by doing the Spectrum Quiz (http://whole-detox.com/the-spectrum-quiz/) and then reading more below:

1. Food is grounding. Most people have a grounding relationship with food – it provides a way to be fully present in the body. It gives us the energy we need to exist. Our body provides us with the foundation for our entire being to survive in the physical world. How do you connect with your body and listen deeply for its wise messages? Are you tapped into your instinct? How do you create stability in your everyday life so you feel safe enough to make choices that serve your bodily needs?

2. Food is emotion. We have strong feelings about food – what to eat, when to eat, how to eat. Our eating becomes who we are, and, as a result, it can stimulate a wide range of feelings. Sometimes our feelings are trapped within and when we don’t express them, we turn to our favorite foods for comfort. How can you take the concept of “flow” into your everyday creativity, allowing your emotions to be fluid and free? Are there ways that you invite a healthy dance between emotions and eating that satisfies YOU, not your cravings?

3. Food is transformation. Every act of eating represents one of transformation. We take in a food and turn it into our being. Often when we eat, we are not just taking in the food – we may find ourselves taking in the clutter in our mind and in our environment, including the conversations, the hustle-bustle of the every day, and all the tasks we have yet to do. How can you bring more concentrated, fiery transformation into your eating so you can assimilate what is surrounding you in a balanced manner?

4. Food is love. Our heart connects to the eating experience through a shared meal with others or giving and/or receiving food. If we feel moved, we may prepare foods for others or surprise them with a gift of food. The holidays are a perfect time to share food with family and friends. When we make foods with love, we are extending the outreach of our heart and we may get gratitude in return. How can you find even more self-love by serving yourself and others by making nourishing, healthy choices that resonate with your heart?

5. Food is our truth. Speaking our voice about what we eat allows us to be authentically who we are. When we are presented with an array of choices, we have the ability to choose for our highest good and our best self. If we make these congruent choices, we are consistent on our path. How many times are you able to find your voice to speak what is on your heart? Are you open to making choices that will surrender you to an authentic life? By expressing your unique eating truths, you may open up to an expanse of opportunity!

6. Food is mood. What we eat can impact our overall mood, and our mood can drive our food choices. How do you stay conscious of this rhythmic flow? Are you tuned in to your internal sense of intuition, which can allow you to know what food is good for the type of mood you want to create? We contain all of the wisdom we need when it comes to knowing what is beneficial for us. The goal is to go within to seek this internal wisdom that can transition us from intellect to insight we can harness in every moment. If you’re curious about what science has told us about the relationship between food and mood, check out this blog.

7. Food is connection. Every bite of food we take represents the web of nature – from the field to the farmer to all the interactions that food had with the natural elements of animals, sun, rainbows, clouds, stars, and moon, and to all of the hands it passed through to make its way onto the fork. There is something special about the act of eating; it is required for our bodily survival and, at the same time, it gives us a pathway to the soul of seeing outside of the constraints of our body and into the eternal landscape of connection. How can you get more connection in that next bite of food? If you can stay in the mindset of every meal being a miracle, you are on your way to filling yourself with the divine nourishment of connection.

Seven_Chakras_Food_4

Like a kaleidoscope that turns to reveal new patterns and colors, food is an everyday rainbow experience of nourishing the whole self. For an in-depth guide to eating to enhance your chakras, look for my new book Whole Detox, coming in March! In the meantime, see what new themes emerge for you in 2016 – be ready to transform through the spectrum of discovery!


Dr. Deanna Minich is an internationally-recognized lifestyle medicine expert, creative visionary, and author of five books. Her twenty years of experience in the nutrition and functional medicine fields led her to develop an integrated, “whole self” approach to nutrition and detox called Food & Spirit, which is the practice of understanding one’s eating and living through the seven core symbolic themes. Her passion is teaching a whole-self approach to nourishment and bridging the gaps between science, spirituality, and art in medicine. Her new book, Whole Detox, comes out on March 8th. Learn more about the book and Whole Detox program at whole-detox.com.

Show Me Your Plate, I’ll Tell You Who You Are

Show Me Your Plate, I’ll Tell You Who You Are
By Deanna Minich, Conference Presenter

Do you ever try to figure people out? Do you wonder about the depths of who someone really is when you first meet them? Throughout time, there have been countless methods, whether by reading stars, palms, faces, or minds, that have lifted the veil revealing the inner landscape of a person.

Arranged Vegetables Creating a Face --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisPerhaps all you need to do is have a meal with them to know more about them.  After all, research shows that we make more than 200 decisions about food every day. As a result, our relationship with eating says something rather significant about how we choose to live our lives. This idea may not be far-fetched considering that we have long been told “you are what you eat.”

Would you like to peel back the onion layers of your next date, business contact, or distant family member? Go out to eat and watch what they order. Here are some general guidelines on how to gauge personality based on food choices – see if any of these descriptions hold true for your dinner dates-or yourself!

Steak-and-Potatoes Sticklers: The high protein of the meat and the lack of brightly-colored palette suggest that these folks are rather “down to earth.” For them to be satisfied, they need to be financially stable and secure with a job, home, and family. You can typically trust these people and get practical, grounded advice from them. They don’t like to let people down, and they won’t want you to let them down either. Getting stuck in the “steak-and-potatoes rut” may be symbolic of a less adventurous, “stick in the mud” personality and resistance to change.

Carb Cravers: Without a doubt, carb cravers are those who tend to do too much, which is why they need all that quick energy from carbohydrates. They love throwing themselves in the midst of action and excitement. These folks are stressed and are attempting to balance their brain biochemistry by pumping up their feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin. Carb-lovers are missing comfort and sweetness in their lives. Rather than dive into the cushy comfort of carbs, they might want to find other ways to create joy and happiness, like spending time with friends or engaged in hobbies that nourish them.

Sugar Sprinklers: For the sugar-lovers, there is always room for dessert, no matter what, and dinner is the gateway to what they really want – the sweets. Their days are speckled with soft drinks and saccharine snacks. They may be incredibly sweet people, but they may not feel their lives are sweet, which is why they may be trying to take a short cut to sweetness through food. Those sinking in sugar need more happiness and laughter. By encouraging a stimulating, stress-free dinner conversation, they may not feel the need to bury themselves under a blanket of white!

The Salt Shaker: People who add salt to just about anything (even before trying it first!) are really looking for flow and movement in their lives. They want to “shake things up” but they don’t know how. Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure in salt-sensitive individuals, causing too much fluid retention. What these people need is to move, dance, and flow into healthier lives.

Although it’s not the absolute path to figuring out the complex nature of one’s being, food choices say volumes about someone’s life – giving insight on their health, social views, emotional state, and approach to living. Indeed, the plate is a small window into the soul!

Dr. Deanna Minich is an internationally-recognized lifestyle medicine expert, creative visionary, and author of five books. Her twenty years of experience in the nutrition and functional medicine fields led her to develop an integrated, “whole self” approach to nutrition and detox called Food & Spirit, which is the practice of understanding one’s eating and living through the seven core symbolic themes. Her passion is teaching a whole-self approach to nourishment and bridging the gaps between science, spirituality, and art in medicine. Her new book, Whole Detox, comes out on March 8th. Learn more about the book and Whole Detox program at whole-detox.com. Join her at the conference for her workshop “How to Live a Colorful, Full Spectrum Life Through Yoga and Chakra Nutrition” and free talk “Whole Detox“.

Interview with Kirtan artists Rob and Melissa Lundsgaard

By: Melissa Hagedorn, Conference Founder/Director

For many Seattle yogis, husband and wife team, Rob and Melissa Lundsgaard need no introduction.  They are well known for offering an accessible environment for both kirtan and Bhakti yoga and are regulars at many yoga studios in the area.  We caught up with them to discuss their upcoming album and their participating in the Northwest Yoga Conference.

Can you describe your music style/offerings in 1-2 sentences?
We sing kirtan, a call and response form of group singing, in which we chant the names of the divine. We lead groups in this way, or weave the mantra into asana classes.

RobandMelisaSome of our readers may not be familiar with kirtan.  What is kirtan?
Kirtan is a form of bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is the yoga of devotion or the way of love, and singing kirtan is a mode of expressing that devotion. We simply come together in a group setting and sing. The music and chanting of the mantra becomes a meditation. There is no set form or way of being, it can be meditative or ecstatic. You can sit or you can dance. It is a celebration and a recognition of the divine in each of us.

Can you give us a little overview of how you both found kirtan and found each other?
We found each other a long time before we discovered kirtan. We met at a wedding on Kitsap Peninsula, and at the time we were both leading very different lives. Our relationship and our devotion to each other developed quickly, leading us toward a similar way of being in our daily and professional lives.

Kirtan found us slowly over time. Our first experience was with Krishna Das, and although we loved it, we never imagined that we’d do it ourselves. But, the seed was planted. Rob wrote a song called ‘Breathe,’ which caught the attention of a yoga teacher, who then asked him to come lead kirtan at her studio. Pretty soon we found ourselves immersed in mantra, chanting, devotion and our undeniable love of kirtan.

RobandMelissaatFestival

You are working on a new album and currently have a fundraising platform going to help raise the necessary funds.  What is an unexpected lesson that you have learned from the process of opening up and asking the community to support you?
Although not an easy feat to run a fundraising campaign, we have been blown away by the support. Not just from the backers who have contributed to the campaign with their dollars, but also the countless people who have shared it with their friends on social media, and even the folks who convinced us to reach out to our community in the first place. Sharing our love of and through the music, mantras and bhakti yoga helps make this project a beautiful exchange. It is an uplifting and inviting way of being and gives us a chance to spread joy, making it accessible to anyone who wants it.

On your new album, you are working with producer Ben Leinbach who has worked with the likes of Deva Premal, Snatam Kaur, Jai Uttal, just to name a few.  What has this process of collaboration been like for you?
Working with Ben has been incredible. He is a magician of sound – quick, fluid and creative, but also a brilliant musician. It’s been an easy, collaborative and fun experience. We look forward to many more collaborations in the future.

What can listeners expect from your new album?
Our first record, ‘Bolo’ was pretty bare bones, just our voices and Rob’s guitar, yet we were really happy with the way it turned out. For this new CD, ‘Tejase,’ we didn’t want to lose the essence of ‘Bolo,’ or the sound that listeners may have come to expect from us, but wanted to add a little more depth to our offerings. ‘Tejase’ definitely has more bells and whistles (literally!), but it is still very much Rob and Melissa, easy to sing along with and great for a yoga class playlist.

RobandMelissaPlayclassYou will be providing live music during two yoga workshops at the Northwest Yoga Conference. How does this enhance the experience for attendees?
Live music in a yoga class adds an entirely new dimension to the practice. These ancient Sanskrit mantras have a life and energy of their own, and our bodies and minds are especially open to healing and transformation when we are on our mats, practicing asana. This opening increases as the class goes on, and the live music pours right through that doorway, even if the practitioner isn’t consciously aware of it.

Rob and Melissa’s new album, “Tejase” will release in the Spring accompanied by a West Coast tour. Tour dates and locations to be announced by the end of the year. Please consider supporting their Kickstarter project which ends in only 4 days!  As an extra incentive, we will be giving away a spot in each of the workshops that they are playing music for at the conference, “Yogic Lore Flow” and “Holy Trio”.  To be eligible, simply support the Kickstarter!